IW 50 Best: Rockwell Collins Aims High for Global Diversification

Company meets the global challenge BRIC by BRIC.

Rockwell Collins Inc. has strategies for dealing with two major issues the aerospace industry will continue to grapple with in 2011 and the years beyond.

Some of the challenges include competing in an increasingly global market and contending with an aging workforce, says Nan Mattai, Rockwell's senior vice president of engineering and technology.

The Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based maker of communication and avionic electronic solutions has expanded its global footprint, entering into contracts with companies in China, Russia and Japan as well as activities in India and Brazil. Globalization is critical at a time when the United States and Europe are scaling back their defense budgets, Mattai says.

Brazil, Russia, India and China, or the BRIC countries, have become the primary expansion targets for Rockwell, Mattai says. She references the company's involvement in the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China's C919 large passenger jet. In October the company announced it will provide in-flight entertainment systems for Comac. The company also is developing integrated surveillance and communication and navigation systems for Comac.

In Russia Rockwell Collins will provide avionics and pilot controls for the new MC-21 family of single-aisle aircraft being developed by Irkut Corp., part of United Aircraft Corp. The first of three aircraft variants is due to enter service in 2016.

Expansion into Brazil could be in the future as the company competes to provide avionics to Brazil's next-generation tanker KC-390.

In 2008, the company opened its India Design Center housed in a 90,000-square-foot facility in an integrated technology park in Hyderabad, India. The center's capabilities include the development of displays for aircraft and ground vehicles, flight management systems, communications technologies, data links, navigation and landing systems, weather radar systems, information management, military flight deck applications and hardware design.

But continuing its global push could become more difficult with an aging workforce that is expected to retire in the next decade, Mattai says.

"We have launched a lot of talent strategies internally around knowledge management -- that is, how do we capture and actually pass on that critical knowledge to the next generation of airspace employees," Mattai says.

One way the company has addressed the talent issue is through its corporate training center Rockwell Collins University, which the company launched two years ago. The program consists of eight focus areas, including engineering.

The program is geared toward recent college graduates who are trained in hands-on applications relevant to Rockwell Collins. The company also partners with U.S. and international universities to develop the skills needed for the evolving industry, says Mattai.

"By fostering that strategic partnership with them, we can get in early and get across to those critical skills," Mattai says.

Stay tuned for information about Rockwell Collins' lean engineering efforts in IW's February issue.


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